Sometime shortly after the Santa Barbara festival, I got a call from my old highschool friend, Scott Clark. We didn’t know each other well in our teens but became friends on my many visits to UCSB. Now living in San Francisco, he’d seen somewhere that the Grays were playing a free show at the SF Hard Rock Cafe and wanted to know if I wanted to go. Why, yes. Yes I do. There weren’t a ton of folks there just to see them, which wasn’t surprising considering I hadn’t heard about the show sooner. Not being a regular rock club, it wasn’t a place you kept tabs on, though Jason Falkner played there with Jellyfish in 1991 (the infmaous live version of Wings’ “Jet” is from that show). That just meant that there was plenty of time to hang out with the band.
I remember talking Lloyd Cole with Dan and telling Buddy that I liked his songs best on Ro Sham Bo. He laughed and said that they’d all been getting each other’s friends quietly confessing that they liked one of the other singer’s songs best. When I jokingly told Jason he was set up on the wrong side of the stage, he told me they’d switched sides to save whichever poor ear was closest to Dan. I think of that almost every time my ears are ringing after playing a show. He asked if I’d talked to their management about starting the Grays fanclub and I told him how they hadn’t been too good about returning calls.
They all got up to do their thing and sounded as amazing as ever. This was my fifth time seeing them in just four months so I knew all the unreleased songs they’d been doing so they could play a full set with only one album to their name. They’d recorded six songs during their long six months in the studio that didn’t end up on their lone album but they weren’t playing most of them live. I wasn’t aware there were extras I’d never heard until my old trading buddy Justin Leiter sent these to me for this tale. Only one of the six songs was an original tune, “Oh Nevermind”, a Buddy Judge song from his olde band the Buddy System (video of the Grays playing it in Denver). Strangely, for all of the human jukebox shows that Jon Brion did later, he didn’t sing lead on any of the covers they recorded. Two of them ended up as b-sides but they didn’t perform either of them live. First up was Jason singing “Outdoor Miner” by Wire (“the password band of the generation now” -Jason) from their 1978 album Chairs Missing, which ended up on the cd single for “Very Best Years”. Buddy sang the Stones’ “Complicated” from the 1967 album Between The Buttons, which was released on the cd single for “Same Thing”. A big fave of Judge’s, he recently sang it with the Ukelele Orchestra of the Western Hemisphere. Two of the recorded coversongs stayed in the set. First was the Monochrome Set’s debut 1979 single “He’s Frank” (live Denver video). In 2000 it was also covered by the Brighton Port Authority (aka. Fatboy Slim) featuring Iggy Pop for the TV show Heroes. The other cover they recorded was Simon & Garfunkel’s “Blessed” from their 1966 album Sounds of Silence and was a regular amped-up set closer for the Grays (video). The biggest surprise of the studio extras is Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now”, which was a huge hit for Judy Collins in 1967. Jason sings lead on it and he re-recorded it almost identically for a covers record shortly after the Grays broke up. The solo version first appeared on the single for “Follow Me” and later on the covers compilation Everybody Says It’s On. In addition to “Oh Nevermind” and the covers, for their live sets, Jason sang “Eloquence” which would appear on his second solo record and “My Home Is Not A House”, which was first released on Jason’s solo album Necessity in 2001 (here’s video of him and band playing it in LA in 2010). Plus, Jon sang future Eels song “Not Ready Yet” (audio of the Grays playing it live). At the Hard Rock that night, Jon sang a cover of the Move’s “Blackberry Way”, which they occasionally did on tour. They played it at one of their only other recorded shows, at New York’s famed CBGB’s (Wilfully Obscure blog post). This show was recorded by the aforementioned Justin Leiter who sent me a copy of the show I’d long since lost. It turns out that the tape was recorded at the wrong speed and was possibly never corrected in all of its travels in the trading world. I made my first attempt at pitch-shifting which helped but Justin made it sound better….
I couldn’t tell you exactly what the setlist was that night, though I did end up with one that’s buried somewhere. I know it exists because there it is on my wall in El Cerrito in 1994, right there between the Paula Abdul and Posies posters (below). Luckily, Britty who does a fantastic Grays fanpage on Facebook posted one she snagged seeing them play the Troubadour in 1994. Same handwriting as mine but without that distracting yellow paper and blue lines. One thing I definitely remember (besides noticing how bored the others looked during Jon’s longer numbers) was their closer, the most memorable thing I ever saw them do.
I’d been hoping to see them cover “Blessed” again ever since the first show and they finally started into it as their last number. Jon played bass and somehow managed to get up on top of his bass amp and sat there for the whole song with one leg crossed over the other. As the rest of the band tore into their instruments near the end, Jon hopped up, unplugged his bass, plugged the cord into a Los Lobos guitar hanging on the Hard Rock wall, turned it up and started turning knobs and pulling at strings. The others were so into their sonic feedback finale that Jason didn’t even notice what Jon had done (or at that point probably didn’t care). Everyone else’s jaw was on the ground.
I’d never really been in a band before but I swore if I ever got to play at a Hard Rock Cafe, I’d do the same thing….and I did. In 2002, my band Rookie Card played the San Diego Hard Rock Cafe with Adam Marsland from Cockeyed Ghost. I figured if we were going to do it, it might as well be an over-the-top cliche so we learned “Freebird” and Adam played organ. When we got to the end solo, I turned around, unplugged and went into a flying V that belonged to K.K. Downing from Judas Priest. I made a little noise like Jon and walked away with it ringing. Unlike Jon, security came over and unplugged it pretty quick. The staff said they loved it but had to make a show because no one’s supposed to touch the sacred artifacts. Six years later, the tale was told in the San Diego Reader (“Axed” Oct 22, 2008). When we debuted Blasphemous Guitars at the La Jolla Hard Rock Cafe, I couldn’t stop plugging and unplugging into the guitars that were a few inches above our heads and it became the running joke of the show (sadly not on the highlight video below). I always credit Jon for the idea so I can sleep at night.
I did talk to the band’s management about starting Ro Fan Bo (the fist, face, scissors logo would’ve been great). I’d researched a little and discovered the only actual companies in the fanclub field handled huge acts like Aerosmith AND 90210-type celebrities. It was only profitable because it was just organized mail order merchandising. Undeterred, I put together my music biz resume with a PR packet explaining what Fanhandlers, my fictional fanclub company could and would do for smaller acts. The business card and logo didn’t look half bad, thanks to my co-worker John Streeter’s early graphic design work.
I was excited, of course, when the management company really wanted to talk to me but they insisted on having me drive down to LA. I knew anything we needed to talk about could be done over the phone but they were adamant. They got worse and worse about returning calls until it was too late to schedule something while I was already going to be down there for my CSUN graduation ceremony. We finally arranged a meeting at their LA office where I was immediately told that the Grays were too small of an act to really need a fanclub. Would I be willing to organize Faith No More’s fanclub for free? No. End of meeting and back to the Bay Area I go.
Within two years, no one needed a fanclub because something called the internet happened. Strangely enough, just by starting up a website about Jellyfish and putting up a page about Jason’s new solo record, meant that I ended up unofficially running their fanclubs for years. Funny but not haha funny.